[ PROFILE ] By Frank De BlaseGoodbye Ronnie
w/Melody Calley, The Temperamental Falcons
Wednesday, May 30
Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Ave.
9 p.m. | $5-$7 | bugjar.com
Guitars don’t have lonesome strings. You can’t find a melancholy key on a piano. Music in general only possesses as much emotion as its composer puts in as he or she works with the limited variations of the eight notes found in each key. Yet within this neutral medium stands Ronnie Lickers, a man who may very well have stumbled upon the lonesome strings and the melancholy keys with his new project, Goodbye Ronnie.
Goodbye Ronnie is a far cry from the thundering abuse he Lickers delivered on the drums in progressive metal monster outfit BML and more in line with the roots rock he tackled with Tell The Cold Wall. The intensity is the same, and perhaps even more acute as Lickers weaves his way through music that is epically stark and achingly beautiful. You can hear the air breathe between the notes, you can see the dust. It’s an acoustic-based, soul-searching endeavor for Lickers full of love songs, love-gone-wrong songs, and lullabies for insomniacs. It’s been a long road to Goodbye Ronnie.
After BML’s less-than-permanent retirement from the scene WHEN?, Lickers started to focus on songs he had written on acoustic guitar. He fleshed them out with Tell The Cold Wall. The band came close but didn’t measure up to Lickers’ goal. He doesn’t blame the band.
“I think they were following me too much,” he says. “Maybe my vision was wrong. I went and got friends. Maybe they didn’t fit in as well, but they were friends. I would blame me more than anyone. I’m not a very good teacher. I kind of knew it once I listened to it in the studio.”
Lickers took the blame and assumed the guilt. “I went into a little slump,” he says. “I just kind of went into my own little woe-is-me thing. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t touch a guitar, I didn’t touch anything for a year. I had just given up. I was like, ‘Nothing’s like how I envision it in my head.’ I wanted to get it out of me and it never came out the way I wanted it to, and I said, ‘Well, screw it.’”
A work-related injury WHEN? put him on pain pills, his frustration and depression kept him on them. Soon he was hooked. But the complacency and isolation eventually got old and after a year of wallowing around, he kicked his own ass back in gear.
“I was done sitting there doing absolutely nothing,” says Lickers. “I was barely going out, life was going by. It was the pills, man. And I finally said, ‘I gotta get off.’ So I weaned myself. I had these beautiful guitars laying around and I reminded myself, that’s my high of highs: playing music.”
Though Goodbye Ronnie is in direct response to this period in his life, Lickers does not glorify it, despite its catharsis. “People say, ‘Well, you know, you lived through it, and that’s how you got to this,”’ he says. “Yes, I understand that. But I don’t ever want to do that again. I didn’t go to doctors, I did it myself. I did it too quick, so instead of being sick for three to four weeks, I was sick for six to seven. And it was horrible. I don’t want to live through that again. I don’t want to go through that to get to this.” But the fact is, he did. He wonders aloud if it wasn’t somehow on purpose; creating the wound so he could heal.
“It was the old ‘cut me so I know I’m alive’ thing,” he says. “Very subconsciously.”
Renewed, Lickers dove into writing and reflecting. “I’m a deep thinker,” he says. “I love songwriting. It’s such a challenge. What am I best at? Drumming. I’ll tear the ass out of some drums. But just making this little three- to five-minute piece of music takes me six weeks to get even halfway. This was a very personal thing. I wasn’t going to release this album. But I had all these friends encourage me to do it. I was like, ‘Who would give two craps about Ronnie besides me?’ This was all very selfish.”
Despite Goodbye Ronnie’s deeply personal lyrics, it is not beyond accessibility or empathy. Still, Lickers felt like he was sticking his neck out and opening himself up for criticism.
“It was a scary thing, especially where I come from,” he says. “The heavier rock… and a lot of my friends are into metal. So it was a scary thing to show anybody. It was personal as hell.”
But it wasn’t like he was playing disco. “Well,” says Lickers. “It felt like that in my brain. It was sappy, acoustic, from the heart.”
Lickers started writing and tightening up his material in August of last year and took it into Watchmen Studios in January. It was during this time that he came across vocalist Melody Calley at a BML show. The two became friends and Lickers invited her aboard.
“Her voice is just strong, powerful, natural, raw, dirty… perfect,” he says. “I’d always wanted to do something that was me and female vocals.”
By the time he hit the studio, Lickers had 30 tunes in various stages of completion. Still, skepticism and self-doubt plagued him.
“I didn’t know what I had,” he says. “I didn’t know if it was so original it was bad or so original it was brilliant, I just didn’t know.”
His worry wound up baseless. The record is brilliant. The 10 tracks on Goodbye Ronnie’s eponymous debut flow with a dark yet fluid grace that counters and supports the lyrical weight. “Begin Again Begin,” with its cello and finger-style guitar, swims in the listener’s headspace like Leonard Cohen or some of the stuff Chris Whitley did toward the end of his life. Even within this pervading melancholy, Goodbye Ronnie makes you feel good. This isn’t a downer.
“I’m not a depressed person,” says Lickers. “I’m a sad person. The way I grew up, it’s just instilled in me. But it’s just a part of me; I love to laugh, l love to have a good time.”
So what part of Ronnie is getting a ticket on the Adios Express? “I think it’s goodbye to all the stuff we carry with us,” he says. “So I can move on and be all the good things people want to be in the world.”